Throwback Thursday: The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 1990 Yankees

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Late last night, I was sitting in my room and listening to a mix of music I’ve dubbed “the cheesy mix” in iTunes. It’s an 11 hour, 45 minute long extravaganza comprised of soft rock songs and ballads you’d hear on a Lite FM station. The time period of the music in the mix ranges from the mid 1970′s up to the late 1990′s and for some reason, it helps me write. Anyway, a couple of hours into it, “How Can We Be Lovers” by Michael Bolton came on – I told you it was cheesy – and hearing the opening notes of the song transported me back to the Spring of 1990. Back then, I was a sophomore in high school and had been talked into joining the Girls Lacrosse team by my best friend. It was the very first girls lacrosse team our high school had and it was an exceedingly comical season. Our team was absolutely terrible but we still had a lot of fun learning how to play and bonding. I joined to appease my best friend who had been annoyed that I chose to rush home to watch General Hospital everyday after school the previous fall instead of trying out for the soccer team with her and I also joined the Lacrosse team to rebel against my mother who never let me play little league baseball or softball when I was growing up because I had a myriad of issues with my eyes. And what better way to annoy your mom than to play a game in which you use sticks and hard balls that could cause damage to any body part without the aid of helmets or padding!

So, of course, while thinking about the Spring of 1990, i.e. the months leading up to my Sweet 16, I also thought about that year’s abysmal Yankees squad. Do you all remember the 1990 Yankees? There’s a reason people always reference that team when they make hyperbolic claims that the Yankees of today will revert back to the days of the 1990 Yankees: They were absolutely dreadful.

dave-winfield1And not only were they awful to watch but it was as if we were all watching a real life soap opera. You had a manager get fired in the place where he had one of his biggest moments as a player, the owner who was suspended from baseball because he had been battling one of his star players for nearly six years in regards to reneging on a payment to said player’s charity and who tried to discredit the player during court proceedings the previous year and you had a pitcher throw a no-hitter and still lose the game.

In some ways, if you were too young to witness the events of that year, you’d be considered lucky to have missed it but the results of this particularly abysmal year also allowed the Yankees to make the moves that would get the ball rolling on the creation of the dynasty that won three out of four World Series later in the decade so while we had to suffer through watching a disastrous season of baseball both on the field and off, us long-suffering Yankee fans were eventually rewarded for our patience.

Let’s get to some stats on the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Yankees of 1990.

  • They finished dead last in the American League Eastern Division with a record of 67-95. Yes, your New York Yankees nearly lost 100 games. I lived through it and remember it well. It was not very pleasant.
  • Bucky Dent was the opening day manager but he was gone 50 games into the season and replaced by Stump Merrill. And to add insult to injury, Dent was fired before a game against the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.
  • The team leader in innings was Tim Leary. He pitched 208. innings in 1990 and finished with a 9-19 record. He also led the team in strikeouts with 138.
  • Jesse Barfield led the team in batting with an OPS+ 127 in 153 games. He only batted .246 but his OPS was .359 and he hit 25 home runs and collected 78 RBI.
  • The starting rotation which was made up of Leary, Dave LaPoint, Andy Hawkins, Chuck Cary and Mike Witt, went 32-59 on the year.
  • And while they were still bad, they played slightly better in the second half when Merrill was managing. They went 30-50 in the first half and 37-45 in the second half.

Here’s the Opening Day lineup from April 12 of that year:

The Yankees actually won their home opener 6-4 against the Cleveland Indians and were in first place until April 18 then they never saw it again. April 19 was the last day they had a record over .500 and it just got worse from there. But as bad as they were, there were a few teams that they could handle in 1990. The Yankees had a 9-3 record against Seattle Mariners, an 8-5 against the aforementioned Indians and even finished 7-6 against the Baltimore Orioles.

The Yankees’ longest losing streak occurred from June 2 – June 9 when they lost six games and this was also when Dent was fired and replaced by Merrill.

Things continued to get worse for the Yankees and it wasn’t necessarily because of what was happening on the field.

George Steinbrenner made the news a lot in the years leading up to the 1990 season and when the new decade began, all hell broke loose. Before the season started, then Commissioner Fay Vincent announced that he was going to be investigating Steinbrenner’s relationship with Howard Spira. Spira, a Bronx gambler and all-around good guy (sarcasm), claimed he was paid by Steinbrenner to discredit slugger Dave Winfield in the ongoing fight between Winfield and Steinbrenner that had begun after Steinbrenner apparently reneged on a payment to Winfield’s charity – it was a stipulation in Winfield’s gargantuan 10-year contract signed back in 1980. When people talk about the Bronx Zoo of the 1970′s they should include Steinbrenner of the 1980′s in that category because he was an utter menace.

Steinbrenner traded Winfield away in May to the California Angels and a few days later, claimed that he didn’t want to do it that it was all Bucky Dent‘s doing. Sure it was, George. Things began to unravel for the owner after that. In July, he was fined $225K for tampering with the Winfield trade and was called into hearings with Vincent shortly after. On July 30, Steinbrenner agreed to step down as general partner because of his involvement with Spira. Even more amazing was that in mid-August, Steinbrenner named Robert Nederlander as his successor. Nederlander was actually Steinbrenner’s third choice. Steinbrenner asked his son Hank to replace him as general partner but Hank declined his father’s offer. Could you imagine that? How different would the Yankees’ future had been if Hank took over back then? I shudder when imagining it. And Steinbrenner’s his choice of executive vice president Leonard Kleinman was blocked by the commissioner.

Now, there was a bright spot on the 1990 Yankees and his name was Kevin Maas. On June 29, Maas made his debut with the Yankees. He was inserted into the lineup as the DH and went 1-3 with single and a strikeout. Nothing too earth shattering happened. In fact, his first few games were quite tame, he mainly hit singles, walked and occasionally struck out but then, something quite amazing happened.

Maas’ first “big” game was on July 4 when he hit first home run of the season in a 13-6 loss to the Royals. He also ended up walking twice in the game. This was a glimpse into what was to come. Two days later, he hit his first MLB double in the second game of a doubleheader against the Twins and he hit his first Yankee Stadium home run the following day.

Mass was absent from the lineup until July 14 against the White Sox when he went 3-5 with five RBI and two home runs. Of course, the Yankees lost because the team was awful but the legend of Kevin Maas was growing. Shortly after that performance, he went on a tear against Texas in Arlington, hitting three home runs in three games – all losses by the Yankees – but by the time that series ended, New York fans had a new favorite player in Pinstripes.

Maas played in 71 games that season and finished with 21 home runs. He hit eight homers in July, eight more in August and five in September and he also set a major league record by reaching the 10 home run plateau in only 72 at bats. He ended up finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting, losing to Sandy Alomar, Jr.

People believed Maas was the real deal and that perhaps he would help the Yankees turn things around in subsequent seasons but it wasn’t meant to be. Maas’ star fizzled as he was given more playing time and he was released by the Yankees before the 1994 season.

andyhawkinspostcoverOn July 1, Andy Hawkins pitched a no hitter against the Chicago White Sox which would be great news but the Yankees ended up losing the game 4-0. Yes, it is possible to lose a no-hitter by four runs. The 1990 Yankees were so bad that they accomplished that feat.

The game was going well for Hawkins and the Yankees – at least defensively – until the bottom of the eighth. Unfortunately for Hawkins, his team couldn’t get anything going against starter Greg Hibbard or reliever Barry Jones and the score was knotted at 0-0.

The inning started off fine with Hawkins getting both Ron Karkovice and Scott Fletcher to pop out to second base.  Then the game began to unravel for Hawkins and the Yankees. Sammy Sosa reached on an E5 then stole second while Ozzie Guillen was batting. Hawkins issued back-to-back walks to Guillen and Lance Johnson which was followed by a Robin Ventura fly ball to left. Normally that would have been the third out but not for the 1990 Yankees. Jim Leyritz committed an error which allowed Sosa, Guillen and Johnson to score and the White Sox went up 3-0.

The terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Yankees weren’t done.

Ivan Calderon hit a long fly ball to right center field that also could have been the third out but was botched by Jesse Barfield and Ventura scored the fourth run. Thankfully for Hawkins, Dan Pasqua did him a solid and hit a pop fly to shortstop that wasn’t botched by Alvaro Espinoza.  Maybe the Yankees should have the infielders play the outfield that inning since they all were able to catch fly balls for Hawkins.

The Yankees actually reached on an error in the top of the ninth when Steve Balboni hit the ball to third and Ventura bungled a play but that was quickly erased when Barfield hit into a double play that the White Sox didn’t bungle and the Yankees lost the game.

The 1990 Yankees ended up finishing 21 games behind the Red Sox in the final division standings.

Here’s the lineup on the last day of the season (October 3, 1990):

They lost 10-3 to the Detroit Tigers in Yankee Stadium. Jack Morris was the winning pitcher for Detroit while Steve Adkins picked up the loss.

Some important transactions from that year:

Some miscellaneous facts about the 1990 Yankees:

    • Wayne Tolleson wore #2
    • Dave LaPoint wore #42
    • No one wore #46 but Steve Balboni was one number away with #45
    • And perhaps the most important nugget of information from the 1990 Yankees’ season is that they actually won on my Sweet 16, 4-3 in 11 innings against the Brewers in Milwaukee. Lee Guetterman got the win.

This year, a lot of younger fans, who either weren’t around to witness the 1990 squad because they were in utero, just a glimmer in their parents’ eyes or were too young to remember the season, were carrying on as if the 2013 Yankees were a truly dreadful team. Compared to the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Yankees of 1990, the 2013 squad was a godsend.

Sometimes I wish someone would invent time travel so I could send fans back to 1990 so they can see what it’s like experiencing a truly horrid Yankee season. From the Steinbrenner-Winfield nonsense to losing a no-hitter, the 1990 Yankees were the epitome of both weird and terrible.

Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this trip down bad memory lane. And remember, when things are going badly for the Yankees of today, look to 1990 and other bad years, read about how horrid they were and take a few deep breaths because things can always be worse.

Stacey is co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money and is a co-host of the It's About The Yankees, Stupid podcast. When she's not blogging about baseball, she's blogging about basketball and when she's not doing either of those things, she's tweeting.

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